By the end of 1804 all the European governments except England, Sweden, and Russia had recognized Napoleon as “emperor of the French,” and some kings had addressed him as “brother.”9 On January 2, 1805, he again proposed peace to George III, and now addressed him as
SIR AND BROTHER:
Having been called by Providence, and by the voice of the Senate, the people, and the army, to the throne of France, my first feeling is a desire for peace.
France and England are wasting their prosperity. They may contend for centuries, but are their Governments rightfully fulfilling their most sacred duty, and does not their conscience reproach them with so much blood shed in vain, for no definite end? I am not ashamed to take the initiative. I have, I think, sufficiently proved … that I do not fear the chances of war. … Peace is my heartfelt wish, but war has never been adverse to my renown. I implore Your Majesty not to deprive yourself of the happiness of bestowing peace on the world. … Never was there a better occasion … for imposing silence on passion, and for listening to the voice of humanity and reason. If this opportunity be lost, what term can be assigned to a war which all my endeavors might fail to terminate? …
What do you hope to attain by war? The coalition of some Continental Powers? … To snatch her colonies from France? Colonies are objects of but secondary importance to France; and does not Your Majesty already possess more than you can keep? …
The world is large enough for our two nations to live in it, and the power of reason is sufficient to enable us to overcome all difficulties if on both sides there is the will to do so. In any case I have fulfilled a duty which I hold to be righteous, and which is dear to my heart. I trust Your Majesty will believe in the sincerity of the sentiments I have expressed, and in my earnest desire to give you proof of them.
We do not know what private assurances of pacifist intent may have accompanied this proposal; in any case it did not swerve England from basing her security upon a balance of Continental Powers, and preserving this by encouraging the weak against the strong. George III, not yet a “brother,” did not answer Napoleon, but on January 14, 1805, his Foreign Secretary, Lord Mulgrave, sent Talleyrand a letter that frankly stated England’s terms for peace:
His Majesty has no dearer wish than to embrace the first opportunity of once more procuring for his subjects the advantages of a peace which shall be founded on bases not incompatible with the permanent security and the essential interests of his States. His Majesty is convinced that this end can only be attained by an arrangement which will provide alike for the future security and tranquillity of Europe, and prevent a renewal of the dangers and misfortunes which have beset the Continent.
His Majesty, therefore, feels it to be impossible to reply more decisively to the question which has been put to him, until he has had time to communicate with those Continental Powers with whom he is allied, and particularly with the Emperor of Russia, who has given the strongest proofs of his wisdom and good feeling, and of the deep interest which he takes in the security and independence of Europe.11
William Pitt the Younger was currently prime minister of England (May, 1804—January, 1806). He represented, as the new financial bastion of Britain, the commercial interests that were almost the only British gainers from the war. They had borne substantial losses from French control of the mouths and course of the Rhine; but they were profiting from British control of the seas. This not only stifled most French maritime competition, it enabled Britain to seize French and Dutch colonies at will, and French vessels wherever found. On October 5, 1804, English ships seized several Spanish galleons bound for Spain with silver that would have enabled her to pay much of her debt to France. In December, 1804, England declared war upon Spain, and Spain placed her fleet at the disposal of France. With this exception, Britain, with superior diplomats and judicious subsidies, slowly won to her side Continental Powers richer in men than in gold.
Alexander I could not make up his mind whether he was a liberal reformer and benevolent despot or a martial conqueror called by destiny to dominate Europe. However, he was clear on several points: he wanted to round out his western boundaries by absorbing Wallachia and Moldavia, which belonged to Turkey; consequently he aspired, like the absorbing Catherine, to overcome Turkey, bestride the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, and, in due time, control the Mediterranean; already he held the Ionian Isles. But Napoleon had once captured those islands, and now longed for them; he still hungered for Egypt, and thirsted for the Mediterranean; he had talked of swallowing Turkey and half of the Orient. Here was a rival gourmand; one or the other must yield. For these and other reasons Alexander had no wish to see England make peace with France. In January, 1805, he signed an alliance with Sweden, which was already allied with England. On July 11 he completed with England a treaty which stipulated that Britain would pay Russia an annual subsidy of £ 1,250,000 for every 100,000 men contributed to the campaigns against France.12
Frederick William III of Prussia parleyed with Napoleon for a year in the hope of adding to his realm the province of Hanover, which the French had taken in 1803. Napoleon offered it on condition of an alliance which would pledge Prussia to support France in maintaining the new status; Frederick did not relish the thought of angry British warships along his coast. On May 24, 1804, he signed an alliance with Russia for united action against any French advance east of the Weser.
Austria too hesitated. If she joined the new coalition she would bear the first brunt of French attack. But Austria, even more closely than England, had felt the successive pushes of Napoleon’s expanding power: the presidency of the Italian Republic, January, 1802; the French annexation of Piedmont, September, 1802; the Swiss submission to a French protectorate, February, 1803; the assumption of the imperial title, May, 1804. And the pushes continued: on May 26, 1805, Napoleon received at Milan the Iron Crown of Lombardy; and on June 6 he accepted the request of the Doge of Genoa that the Ligurian Republic be incorporated into France. When, asked the Austrians, would this new Charlemagne stop? Could he not—unless most of Europe should unite to stop him—easily absorb first the Papal States and then the kingdom of Naples? What then would keep him from appropriating Venice and all of that luscious Venezia which was contributing so indispensably to Austrian revenues? Such was the mood of Austria when Britain offered her fresh subsidies, and Russia promised her 100,000 hardy troops in case France should attack. On June 17, 1805, Austria allied herself with England, Russia, Sweden, and Prussia, and the Third Coalition was complete.